Recent DEA raids on storefront shops that specialize in selling Canadian prescriptions drugs to Central Florida seniors have U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and others in Florida’s congressional delegation wondering whether there has been an unannounced change in federal policy.

In the past few weeks, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration raided nine shops in the region Central Florida region including Tampa Bay, The Villages and Orlando, seizing records including customer lists, Canadian pharmacy vendors, drug transactions, and electric bills.

According to Bill Hepscher, co-owner of Canadian MedStore, which runs six of the raided stores, the businesses have been operating for up to 15 years, using direct computer links to allow customers, mostly senior citizens, to buy lower-priced prescription medications such as blood-pressure drugs.

Hepscher insisted the shops do not deal with any controlled substances such as opioids, and do not handle cash or medicines, but provide direct-link services to accredited pharmacies for mail delivery to Florida.

The FDA did not respond to an inquiry Wednesday from Florida Politics but has indicated that it is concerned about the quality of prescription medicines not approved under U.S. regulations.

Hepscher just returned from a trip to Washington D.C., where he met with Nelson and members of Congress or their staffs, including those of Republican U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Dennis Ross, and Democratic U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist, Kathy Castor, and Stephanie Murphy.

Nelson immediately responded Wednesday with a letter to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. demanding answers about why the DEA raided the Central Florida companies, and whether this meant the administration of President Donald Trump would oppose Americans buying lower-cost Canadian medicines when they are available. Hepscher said he received assurances of similar concerns from other Congressional offices.

“I appreciate that we need to keep dangerous drugs like fentanyl and counterfeit pharmaceuticals out of our country, but many of my constituents are confused about why they are suddenly receiving a seizure notice instead of their necessary medication — if there has been no change in policy,” Nelson wrote. “To the best of my knowledge, no new FDA policies have been publicly announced or shared with Congress.”

American access to Canadian drugs has been a long-standing issue for Nelson, who first got involved in 2004, according to a news release from his office. That year he sent a similar letter to the heads of the FDA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection after the government seized an elderly Florida couple’s medication ordered from Canada.

Two years later, at Nelson’s request, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee launched an investigation into the customs department seizure of prescription drugs purchased for personal use from pharmacies outside the U.S.

Later that same year, Nelson, along with Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, filed legislation, which Congress passed and the president signed into law, that allowed Americans crossing the Canadian border to bring back small amounts of prescription drugs.

Shortly after Nelson’s bill was approved, U.S. customs officials announced in Oct. 2006 that it would no longer seize individuals’ prescription drugs purchased from pharmacies outside the U.S.

That same year, Nelson received assurances from the FDA that it, too, would no longer act on small amounts of prescription drugs being imported into the U.S. for individual use, according to the news release.

Despite the agency’s 2006 announcement, some Floridians have reportedly received notices in the past couple of months indicating their prescription drugs are being held at their local post office at the request of the FDA, Nelson’s office reported Wednesday. That occurred around the same time as the raids on the Central Florida storefront operations.

“If there has been a change in policy, I urge the FDA to announce those changes publicly,” Nelson wrote. “Americans, especially our seniors, shouldn’t be left in the dark waiting for needed medication to arrive without clear guidance from the agency.”

About The Author

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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